For your Friday morning wakeup, a couple of top ten lists of best players and best teams I’ve ever seen in college football.
1. Herschel Walker, Georgia: For three years, everybody in the stadium knew that Herschel was going to get the ball between the tackles. Georgia had a very average passing game so it was always eight in the box but that never stopped Herschel, who led Georgia to a 33-3 record in three years including the 1980 national championship as a freshman and three straight SEC titles. Herschel ran for 5,259 yards and 49 touchdowns in three years. Had he stayed for his senior year (bolted to the USFL) he would have set rushing records that might never be broken. Herschel won the 1982 Heisman but probably should have won it all three years. Bias against freshman and sophomores winning the award kept him from winning in 1980 and 1981.
2. Tim Tebow, Florida: In Tebow’s four years at Florida, the Gators won two SEC and two national titles. He had a hand in the 2006 championship as a specialty quarterback who mostly ran on short yardage, but he won the Heisman as a sophomore in 2007 when he threw for 32 touchdowns and ran for 23. He led the Gators to the national title in 2008 when he threw for 30 touchdowns and ran for four more. He capped off his career with a 13-1 senior season in which the only loss was to eventual national champion Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Tebow’s record as a starting quarterback was 35-6. He threw for 9,285 yards and 88 touchdowns (only 16 interceptions) and ran for 2,947 and an SEC record 57 TDs. He won the Maxwell Award in 2007 and 2008 and was a first team All-American in 2007 and a third team pick in 2008-09. Additionally, Tebow was the Academic All-American of the Year for Division I football two consecutive years.
3. Ted Hendricks, Miami: They didn’t keep sack stats in the 1960s but the late Charlie Tate (great Gator player, former Miami coach) told me that Hendricks got to the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage at least 100 times in his three years of eligibility. That is not an exaggeration. On Thanksgiving weekend in 1966, two days after Steve Spurrier had been announced as the Heisman Trophy winner, Hendricks got to Spurrier seven times and batted down several other passes as the Hurricanes scored a 21-16 upset over the Gators. Hendricks was known as “The Mad Stork” because he was a brilliant student in the classroom and was a tall, skinny, 6-7, 220 pounder on the field. As skinny as he was, nobody could block him. He’s a member of both the college and pro football halls of fame.
4. John Hannah, Alabama: You usually don’t watch offensive linemen when you watch a college or pro football game, but Hannah was so good you watched him every snap because he simply buried people. In 1981 Sports Illustrated featured Hannah on its cover and called him “The Best Offensive Lineman of All Time.” Bear Bryant said Hannah was the best offensive lineman he ever coached and had him right there with Lee Roy Jordan as the best football player he ever coached. Hannah was a 2-time All-American at Bama and was a 10-time All-Pro selection in the NFL. He started all 183 games of his pro career. He is a member of both the college and pro football halls of fame.
5. Tommie Frazier, Nebraska: Frazier played his high school football at Bradenton Manatee, but went to Nebraska rather than Florida, Florida State or Miami because the Cornhuskers ran the option. You could make a case that Frazier is the greatest option quarterback in history. In his four years in Lincoln, Frazier was 33-3 as a starter with 43 passing touchdowns and 36 on the ground. Frazier came close to leading Nebraska past FSU in the 1993 national championship game, then beat Miami in the national title game in 1994 and Florida in 1995. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
6. Derrick Thomas, Alabama: Thomas put the fear of God into opposing quarterbacks and caused left tackles sleepless nights. To put what Thomas did in perspective, Alex Brown holds the all-time Florida record for sacks with 31. Thomas had 27 in one season (1988) and finished his Alabama career with 52. He was a 2-time All-American at Alabama where he won the Butkus Award in 1988. In an NFL career cut short because of a car accident that left him paralyzed (he died a few weeks later due to complications), Thomas recorded 126.5 sacks and set the NFL record with seven in one game. He is a member of both the college and pro football halls of fame.
7. Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh: One of the knocks on Dorsett was that he never looked like he was playing hard. He was a glider who no one ever seemed to hit hard. The game just looked too easy. As a 155-pound freshman tailback at Pitt in 1973, Dorsett ran for 1,586 yards to lead the Panthers to their first winning season in 10 years. He became the first freshman since Doc Blanchard in 1944 to make first team All-American. Dorsett was a first team All-American three times, won the Heisman in 1976 when he led the Panthers to the national championship and finished his college career with four seasons with at least 1,000 years (6,526 for his career). He is a member of the college and pro football halls of fame.
8. Bo Jackson, Auburn: There are those who think Bo Jackson was a better college football player than Herschel. Bo was great but Herschel was the entire Georgia team. Bo had help because in those days Auburn always had running backs. He only carried the ball 650 times in four years but ran for 4,303 yards and 43 touchdowns. He won the Heisman in 1985 when he carried the ball 278 times (Herschel had one season with 274 and two with more than 300) for 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns. Bo was 6-1, 230 and was timed at 9.54 seconds in the 100-yard dash. He did a hand-timed 4.12 in the 40 at the NFL combine in 1986. He went on to be a first round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFL and a second round pick of the Kansas City Royals in Major League Baseball. He once hit a home run at McKeithan Stadium that hit the O-Dome. Bo is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
9. Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State: It’s hard to rate Sanders higher because he really only had one great season but what a season that was. In his Heisman Trophy season of 1988 Sanders ran for 2,628 yards and 39 touchdowns. In his previous two seasons, Sanders had a combined 957 yards and 10 touchdowns. During the 1988 season, Sanders had four games when he ran for more than 300 yards, five straight games of 200 or more yards and he scored at least two touchdowns in 11 straight games. He is a member of the college and pro football halls of fame.
10. Reggie White, Tennessee: White was so dominant as a senior that it changed the way teams game planned their offense. You couldn’t stop him with a double team so teams were forced to run two-man pass routes in order to get enough protection for the quarterback. That still didn’t stop him. He ripped through SEC offensive lines for 15 sacks, nine tackles for loss and even picked off a pass. Running against double teams his first three years (1980-82), White still managed 17 sacks and made All-SEC twice (1981-82) despite being slowed by nagging ankle injuries. When he was healthy as a senior he was the most dominant interior lineman in the country and won SEC player of the year as well as consensus All-American honors. He is a member of the college and pro football halls of fame.
1. Miami, 2001: For all practical purposes, this was an NFL team. The roster included 17 future first round draft picks among the 38 who would hear their names called on NFL Draft day. There were six first team All-Americans. The Hurricanes averaged 42.6 points per game and gave up only 9.75. The only close game all year was a 26-24 great escape on a cold day in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech. An 18-7 win over Boston College was the Canes only other game decided by fewer than 20 points. Miami blew out Nebraska, 37-14, in the Rose Bowl for the national championship to cap a 12-0 perfect season.
2. Nebraska, 1995: It’s 20 years later and the Gators still haven’t tackled Tommie Frazier. There. I got that out of the way. The closest thing the 12-0 Cornhuskers had to a close game in 1995 was a 35-21 win over Washington State. The offense averaged 53.2 points and 509 yards with 366 coming on the ground. Opponents averaged only 14.5. This was the second straight national title for Nebraska, which would win its third championship in four years in 1997.
3. Southern Cal, 1972: The Trojans of John McKay ran the table (12-0) beating six ranked teams along the way. In the Rose Bowl, Southern Cal destroyed #3 Ohio State, 42-17, one of the worst losses of Woody Hayes’ career. The roster featured 13 All-Americans (including Lynn Swann, Sam “Bam Cunningham, Charlie Young and Richard “Batman” Wood) and 33 players who would go on to play in the NFL. The only game decided by fewer than 10 points (30-21 over Stanford) was only that close because of a meaningless defensive touchdown by the Cardinal in the final minute.
4. Florida, 2008: The loss to Ole Miss was an aberration but probably the best thing that could have happened to this Florida team. After losing to Ole Miss in game four, Tim Tebow gave the speech and the Gators won their next eight games by a 51.3-11.9 margin. In their final two games – the SEC Championship and national championship games – the Gators faced the #1-ranked teams in the country, disposing of Alabama 31-20 and Oklahoma, 24-14, to win their second national championship in three years. The Gators went 13-1 against a strength of schedule ranked #5 nationally. Tim Tebow finished the season with 2,746 passing yards and 30 touchdowns and 673 rushing yards and 12 more. The Gators averaged 213.9 passing yards and 231.1 rushing yards per game. The roster was stacked with 35 players who made it to the NFL.
5. Penn State, 1986: The Nittany Lions ran the table (12-0) and upset highly favored Miami, 14-10, in the Fiesta Bowl to win Joe Paterno’s second national championship. The Penn State roster had 27 future NFL Draft picks. What made it work for this team was a relentless ground game led by future first round picks D.J. Dozier and Blair Thomas and a suffocating rushing defense that gave up only 64 yards per game, 2.0 yards per carry. The Miami team the Nittany Lions beat in the national championship game featured Michael Irvin, Jerome Brown, Vinny Testaverde and Bennie Blades.
6. Oklahoma, 1974: The Sooners were on probation and couldn’t play in the post season so all 11 regular season games were their bowl games. A 2-touchdown win over 6th-ranked archrival Nebraska was the closest thing to a white knuckler all season. The Sooners won their 11 games by a 43.4-8.4 margin. They threw only 83 passes all season. The wishbone offense was practically unstoppable, averaging 438 yards per game led by Joe Washington, one of eight All-Americans on the team. Barry Switzer’s offensive coordinator was Galen Hall, who would go on to become the head coach at Florida in 1984 after Charley Pell was fired for NCAA violations.
7. Alabama, 1979: This was the sixth and final national championship team for Bear Bryant, who retired three years later. This wasn’t the most explosive Bama offense of the wishbone era of the 1970s but it didn’t have to be because the defense gave up only 5.6 points and 164 yards per game while posting five shutouts. Alabama allowed only two touchdowns in a game twice. Over on offense, Alabama only threw 112 passes all season but passing wasn’t necessary because the Tide averaged 316 yards per game rushing even without an explosive back. From a talent perspective this wasn’t one of Bryant’s best teams of the 1970s, but from a standpoint of playing like a team and getting the job done, it was spectacular.
8. Nebraska, 1971: Nebraska’s 35-31 win over Oklahoma in the Thanksgiving weekend showdown between #1 and #2 is still called by many the greatest college football game ever played. Nebraska rallied in the fourth quarter to score the game-winning touchdown with 1:38 to go, the only game the Huskers won by fewer than 24 points all season. Nebraska annihilated #2 Alabama in the Orange Bowl, 38-6 to claim the national title. Nebraska’s prolific offense was led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, who ran for 267 yards and two touchdowns, caught 57 passes for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns, and ran back three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns.
9. Alabama, 1992: Gene Stallings led the Tide to a 13-0 record with a strong defense that allowed only two offensive touchdowns in one game (Florida scored three against Alabama in the first SEC Championship Game) all year. Alabama gave up 9.2 points per game and registered three shutouts. Offensively, the Tide had the perfect quarterback for a conservative pro-style offense in Jay Barker. Alabama sealed its unbeaten national championship season with a shockingly easy, 34-13, win over Miami, in the Sugar Bowl that ended Miami’s 29-game winning streak.
10. Florida, 1996: If not for a rash of injuries that left the Gators with only one healthy starter on the offensive line going into the FSU game, Florida would have run the table and would have had a chance at an unbeaten season. The Gators avenged the loss to FSU by facing the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl in what turned out to be the national championship game because Ohio State knocked off previously unbeaten Arizona State in the Rose Bowl. With a healthy offensive line and a new shotgun attack to negate the Seminoles pass rush, Florida destroyed FSU, 52-20, to win the national title. In Florida’s 13 games, the Gators averaged 465.1 yards per game while winning by a 47-17 average margin. Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel threw for 39 touchdowns to the best threesome of wide receivers in the country in Reidel Anthony (72-1,293, 18 TDs), Ike Hilliard (47-900, 10) and Jacquez Green (33-626, 9). The 1996 Gators featured 21 players who would eventually be drafted in the NFL.
Who is the best college football player you have ever seen play and which is the best team you’ve ever seen?
Steely Dan broke onto the scene in 1972 with their “Can’t Buy a Thrill” album featuring music that seemed like a fusion of rock, blues, Latin and jazz and lyrics The critical reception was lukewarm but audiences took to the funky music and the lyrics that seemed to have cryptic meanings that drove people crazy trying to figure them out. The album featured two songs that cracked the Billboard Top 20, “Do It Again” which made it to #6 and “Reelin’ in the Years” which made it up to #11. Today’s music is “Do It Again.”